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Bully Bosses Are Easy To Spot But Hard To Stop  

Bullies are not just a problem in schools, playgrounds or cyberspace. They are also a common presence at work. And when the bully is a boss, careers, teams and organizations can be ruined.

According to a 2014 Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) survey, 72 percent of adult Americans are aware that bullying has or is taking place at their workplace. Twenty-seven percent report they have been or are currently being bullied on the job.

The WBI defines workplace bullying as “repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators.” Bully behaviors are:Simple peck-order bullying is only the

  • Threatening, humiliating, or intimidating, or
  • Sabotage that prevents work from getting done, or
  • Verbal abuse

In the workplace, sexual harassment is one of the very few bullying behaviors that is illegal. It is not unusual for companies to lack policies that define workplace bullying behaviors, which makes it difficult for victims to find support.

Why Be A Bully?

What often drives bully boss behavior is the need to control or manipulate people and situations to preserve their ego and status at work. They are also jealous of others’ success, and demand credit for others’ accomplishments.

The stereotypical bully boss creates fear with public tantrums, diatribes, criticism and harassment. However, most are less predictable about who, how, and when they conduct campaigns of intimidation. Some alternate between “good” and  “bad” days. On “good” days, they can be charming and professional. On “bad” days, no one is safe – especially one of their targets. In these offices an informal network develops with the sole purpose of warning co-workers when the boss is having one of his “bad” days.

Passive aggressive behaviors sometimes give away bully bosses. I have watched bully bosses allow projects to proceed only to step in once they are underway and reverse course. This allows the bully to control a project without having to participate in its development (which is beneath them), and publicly place blame for the failure on the target for, in essence, not reading the bully’s mind.

Another classic passive-aggressive behavior is being chronically late. This is one way the bully boss lets others know who is in control of the meeting, as well as a reminder of the organizational pecking order (i.e., whatever I was doing earlier is more important than this, and, you can’t do anything without me).

What Can You Do?

Go to Human Resources. According to the WBI survey, 82 percent of bully bosses keep their jobs. As a result, this tactic can lead to retaliation as the bully tries to convince HR you have an attitude or performance problem (and is often successful).

Find a buffer. If you have a supervisor between you and the bully, use them as a shield to minimize your contact with the bully.

Don’t Respond In The Moment. When you are being verbally attacked, let your bully know that you appreciate their input and will get back to him after you have time to consider what he shared.

Update your CV. Odds are very good your boss bully will never be called out on his behavior, so be prepared to either transfer to another department or find employment elsewhere.

Gregory Alford, MS. Psy., is founder of Accelerated Coaching & Consulting LLC, and specializes in business, leadership and life coaching and Marcom consulting.

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